VIETNAM: AUTHORITIES PRESSURE NEW CHRISTIANS TO RECANT


Converts from ancestral animism threatened with violence, imprisonment.

HO CHI MINH CITY, November 21 (Compass Direct News) – In violation of Vietnam’s new religion policy, authorities in Lao Cai Province in Vietnam’s far north are pressuring new Christians among the Hmong minority to recant their faith and to re-establish ancestral altars, according to area church leaders.

Local authorities have warned that on Sunday (Nov. 23) they will come in force to Ban Gia Commune and Lu Siu Tung village, Bac Ha district, where the Christians reside, but they did not say what they would do.

When the authorities in Bac Ha district in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region discovered that villagers had converted to Christianity and discarded their altars, they sent “work teams’ to the area to apply pressure. Earlier this month they sent seven high officials – including Ban Gia Deputy Commune Chief Thao Seo Pao, district Police Chief A. Cuong and district Security Chief A. Son – to try to convince the converts that the government considered becoming a Christian a very serious offense.

Christian leaders in the area said threats included being cut off from any government services. When this failed to deter the new Christians, they said, the officials threatened to drive the Christians from their homes and fields, harm them physically and put them in prison.

When the Christians refused to buckle under the threats, a leader of the Christians, Chau Seo Giao, was summoned daily to the commune headquarters for interrogation. He refused to agree to lead his people back to their animistic beliefs and practices.

Giao asked the authorities to put their orders to recant the Christian faith into writing. The officials declined, with one saying, “We have complete authority in this place. We do not have to put our orders into writing.”

They held Giao for a day and night without food and water before releasing him. He is still required to report daily for “work sessions.”

In September, Hmong evangelists of the Vietnam Good News Church had traveled to the remote Ban Gia Commune where it borders Ha Giang province. Within a month, some 20 families numbering 108 people in Lu Siu Tung village had become Christians and had chosen Giao to be their leading elder.

Rapid growth of Christianity among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities in the northwest provinces has long worried authorities. There were no Protestant believers in the region in 1988, and today there are an estimated 300,000 in many hundreds of congregations. As recently as 2003, official government policy, according to top secret documents acquired by Vietnam Christians leaders, was the “eradication” of Christianity.

Under international pressure, however, a new, more enlightened religion policy was promulgated by Vietnam beginning in late 2004. Part of the new approach was an effort to eliminate forced renunciations of faith. The provisions and benefits of such legislation, however, have been very unevenly applied and have not reached many places such as Ban Gia Commune.

Vietnam’s Bureau of Religious Affairs prepared a special instruction manual for officials in the Northwest Mountainous Region on how to deal with the Protestant movement. Published in 2006 and entitled “Concerning the Task of the Protestant Religion in the Northwest Mountainous Region,” this document included plainly worded instructions for authorities to use all means to persuade new believers to return to their traditional beliefs and practices.

This document directly contravened Vietnam’s undertaking to outlaw any forcible change of religion. Under international pressure, the manual was revised and some language softened, but according to an analysis of the 2007 revision of the manual released in February by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the language still communicates the goal of containing existing Christianity and leaves the door open to actively stop the spread of Christianity.

The Central Bureau of Religious Affairs instruction manual for training officials shows no change to the 2006 document’s core objective to “solve the Protestant problem” by subduing its development, concluded the February report by CSW and the International Society for Human Rights.

The 2006 manual had outlined a government plan to “resolutely subdue the abnormally rapid and spontaneous development of the Protestant religion in the region.”

“Whereas the 2006 manual provided specific legitimacy for local officials to force renunciations of faith among members of less well-established congregations, the 2007 edition imposes an undefined and arbitrary condition of stability upon the freedom of a congregation to operate,” the CSW report says. “Therefore, the treatment of any congregation deemed not to ‘stably practice religion’ is implicitly left to the arbitration of local officials, who had previously been mandated to force renunciations of faith.”

Without a full and unconditional prohibition on forcing renunciations of faith, the report concludes, the amended manual does not go far enough to redress problems in the 2006 original.

Officials in the remote village of Ban Gia felt no compunction to resort to strong-arm methods to halt the growth of Christianity, said one long-time Vietnam observer.

“When a church leader advised the central government of the problem in Ban Gia Commune, the pressure only increased,” he said. “The unavoidable conclusion is that it is still acceptable in Vietnam for officials to force recantations of Christian faith.”

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: ORISSA BRACES FOR MORE VIOLENCE AFTER ANOTHER MURDER


Suspecting cover-up, Communist investigators say 500 people may have been killed.

NEW DELHI, November 5 (Compass Direct News) – Terrified Christians already ravaged by more than two months of violence in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district braced for more carnage as suspected Maoists today gunned down a local worker of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Dhanu Pradhan was an RSS activist said to be on the Maoists’ hit list. Police said he was shot by three suspected Maoists in Kumharigaon village under Brahmanigaon jurisdiction in Kandhamal at 1 p.m., reported The Indian Express. Modern India’s worst-ever spate of violence began in the forest district of Kandhamal on Aug. 24, a day after a leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed.

Although a Maoist group admitted killing Saraswati and four of his aides, the VHP blamed local Christians for the assassinations. The wave of violent attacks carried on unabated for more than two months, destroying at least 4,500 houses and churches in the district.

More than 500 people, mostly Christian, might have been killed in the past few months’ violence in Kandhamal district, according to a report by a Communist Party fact-finding team. The report also suggested that the state government downplayed and covered up evidence of unreported deaths.

“The official figure for deaths has been reported to be 31, however, a senior government official on the condition of anonymity informed that he himself consigned two hundred dead bodies – found from the jungle – to flames after getting them collected in a tractor,” said the report by the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML).

The unnamed official estimated that, based on the intensity and pace of killings, the number of those killed was more than 500, according to the report. The fact-finding team visited Kandhamal district on Oct. 15-16 and published its report in the Oct. 27 issue of the party’s official publication, Liberation.

The report, signed by CPI-ML member J.P. Minz, also said that Hindu extremists might have used state government machinery to “minimize the evidence and possibly destroy dead bodies.”

Dr. John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, told Compass the report was startling but not surprising.

“I have been tabulating the data from independent church groups,” he said. “Even the Bishop’s House in Bhubaneswar has maintained that tens of thousands of refugees are hiding in forests, many of them with injuries of various degrees of grievousness.”

Dayal said that people must have been killed in the forests. “Even in villages, bodies have been discovered in neighboring fields,” he added.

The fact-finding team reported that the numerous attacks, acts of vandalism and killings took place “in full view of police, and the police remained mute spectators.” At least 200 Christian villages and 127 church and prayer halls were either destroyed or burned, it added.

Victims in numerous relief camps told the fact-finding team that the VHP and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, were responsible for the tensions and violence.

“They used to organize meetings of the Kandha tribals and incite them to attack the Christian hamlets and also provided funds for doing this,” the report said.

Dayal said the Supreme Court of India should act on the report’s findings.

 

‘Great Terror’

The CPI-ML reported that Christians continued to experience “great terror,” and that Hindu nationalist groups were demanding the withdrawal of security personnel sent by the federal government to contain the violence.

“Riot victims are frightened to go back to their villages because they have been threatened that if they return they will be cut into pieces,” said the report. “The rioters are also proclaiming that only Hindu converts will be allowed to return. On the other hand, those in charge of the relief camps are pressuring the riot victims to return to their villages, saying that the life has returned to normalcy and peace has returned.”

The Indian Express yesterday reported that about 250 riot victims who had taken shelter in the Meliaputti and Mandasa areas of Srikakulam district in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state were refusing to go back to their villages “out of fear.”

“As many as 109 persons of 35 families of Sarlaguda, Raikia, Nuagaon, Baliguda, Bataguda, Barkhama, G. Udaygiri, Tikabali and Suraballi areas have been residing at Sourakaligam village of Meliaputti area, Andhra Pradesh, since the Kandhamal violence,” said the newspaper, adding that 140 others had taken shelter in Kumudhisingi village of the Mandasa area.

There are 12,641 violence-affected people in seven relief camps in Kandhamal, according to the district authorities.

 

Violence in Another District

The violence in Kandhamal has led to tensions in several other districts of Orissa. Yesterday a mob of around 400 people surrounded and beat five Christian men in the Bindha area of Bhadrak district’s Tihidi Block, according to the Christian Legal Association.

The incident took place when five men and two women, all staff of the Discipleship Centre, were returning from a few villages where that Christian organization has projects. A cyclist suddenly appeared before them and had an accident, incurring minor injuries. Soon a mob of about 300 people gathered and began beating the men, accusing them of converting Hindus, as if such activity were illegal in India.

The mob dragged the Christians to a Hindu nationalist rally where slogans against them were chanted. Police arrived and took the Christians to a police station, charging them under laws against forcible or fraudulent conversion. The seven Christians remained in jail at press time.

Police also filed a counter-complaint against the attackers, but no one was arrested at press time.

 

Nun’s Rape Case

In the case of a Catholic nun raped on Aug. 25 during the initial violence, the Kandhamal district court today issued a notice summoning her to appear for identification of the culprits, reported the Press Trust of India news agency.

The victim, who said she was raped in K. Nuagaon in Baliguda, had refused to cooperate with police, demanding that a federal agency investigate her case. On Oct. 24, she appeared before media and blamed police for not coming to her rescue. She said she was raped while police did nothing, and that later she saw a policeman talking congenially to one of the rapists.

Previously she had filed a complaint at the Baliguda police station, but officers did not make any arrests until a national newspaper, The Hindu, highlighted the case on Sept. 30. When the nun initially went to the police station to file her complaint, an officer had warned her of possible negative consequences of doing so.

 

One-Man Investigation

While Christians are demanding that a federal agency take over investigation of the violence in Orissa, the state government has appointed a one-man panel, the Justice S.C. Mohapatra judicial commission, to carry out the probe.

The commission placed an advertisement in a local newspaper, Sambad, on Nov. 3 seeking affidavits of victims by Nov. 15. It also said that people could appear before the commission on Nov. 28 in its office in Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

The commission will analyze the sequence of events and circumstances leading to the killing of Saraswati on Aug. 23 and the subsequent violence. It will also probe the role, conduct and responsibility of individuals, organizations, groups and agencies in precipitating and committing the crimes and investigate whether the measures that followed were adequate.

Mohapatra is a retired judge of the Orissa High Court.

Orissa is ruled by a coalition of a local party, the Biju Janata Dal, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has close ties with the VHP.

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Kerala, October 31 (Compass Direct News) – Suspected Hindu extremists burned down a school building run by a church on Oct. 16 in Kuravilangad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the main building of St. Mary Higher Secondary School was destroyed in the fire, and authorities found materials used to set the school ablaze on the premises. Church authorities demanded an investigation, and government officials have visited the site. The school has a reputation for holding seats open for poor Dalit Christians in spite of strong opposition from the upper-caste Hindus. A police investigation was ongoing at press time.

Karnataka – Mangalore police on Oct. 14 assaulted a Christian for participating in a recent protest rally against attacks on churches. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that local police targeted Herald D’Souza for taking part in the rally, dragged him to a police station and severely thrashed him, then charged him with rioting. The head constable, identified only as Gopalakrishna, assaulted him without initiating any inquiry. D’Souza sustained serious injuries on his backbone, chest, face and hands. A complaint has been registered against the head constable, but senior police officials are pressuring the Christian for a settlement.

Andhra Pradesh – Police on Oct. 14 arrested Christians in Kamareddygudem village of Nalgonda district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 8 p.m., as the five-member Operation Mobilization (OM) Christian media team led by Kummari Rajesh was screening a film on Jesus, a group of extremists arrived on motorbikes. They assaulted the OM team and destroyed equipment worth more than 200,000 rupees (US$3,950). Rajasekhar Sarella, legal counsel for the Christians, told Compass that Rajesh filed a First Information Report against the extremists at Thripuraram police station, and the extremists filed a counter complaint. The Christians were charged with “unlawful assembly” and “hurting religious sentiments.” They were released on bail on Oct. 20. Police also arrested Hindu extremists Gundeboina Lingaiah, Srinivas Reddy and Narshingh Venkatreddy for damaging property and voluntarily causing hurt with dangerous weapons. The extremists were also released on bail.

Karnataka – Unknown assailants set a church building on fire on Oct. 13 in Yadavanahalli, Bangalore, burning it down at 1 a.m. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, a pulpit, tables, sound system, fans, music instruments, lights and other furniture of St. Anthony church were reduced to ashes, with damages estimated at around 100,000 rupees (US$1,975). Police claimed that it was an accident, while the Electrical Inspectorate of Karnataka ruled out an electrical short circuit. Church authorities have filed a complaint, and at press time a police investigation was underway.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) disrupted worship and threatened Christians on Oct. 12 in Madanapally, Chitoor. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that about 20 extremists barged into Krupa Prayer House shouting the Hindu devotional slogan “Jai Sri Ram [praise lord Ram]” and told the Christians not to conduct future worship meetings. The Hindu extremists planted a stone in front of the church and told the Christians that they were planning to build a Hindu temple there. A GCIC representative told Compass that the matter was settled, with a police official promising to give the Hindu extremists land for a temple elsewhere.

Uttar PradeshHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists allegedly belonging to the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak and Bajrang Dal on Oct. 12 disrupted worship, desecrated Bibles and vandalized furniture at a church in Anola. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 10 a.m. some 15 to 20 extremists led by Sanjeev Saxena stormed into an Assemblies of God Church, denouncing Christ and cursing. They warned pastor Jallal Masih and the nearly 35 believers not to worship in the church building again. A representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass that no Sunday worship has been held there since then.

Tamil Nadu – Hindu extremists attacked a church and damaged a statue of Mary on Oct. 9 in Ganapathy, Coimbatore. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the assailants entered the church premises, broke the glass cabin and damaged the six-foot tall statue. The incident sparked protest among Christians, resulting in about 100 church members gathering on the road demanding protection and the immediate arrest of the Hindu extremists. Police have arrested three extremists, said the GCIC, and at press time calm had returned to the area.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Oct. 5 burned Immanuel Full Gospel church, and police forced its pastor to give a false statement in Kanaji Pura, Chamarajanagar. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that extremists set fire to the church, damaging the pulpit, Bibles and hymn books. The extremists along with police officials had threatened pastor C.J. Patrick two weeks prior, telling him to cease worship and shut down his church. A police complaint has been filed, but police have pressured the pastor to falsely state that it was an accident and not an attack. A GCIC representative told Compass that the case was closed, as the pastor gave the false statement in writing.

Uttar Pradesh – Police raided a church based on a complaint filed by Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, or VHP) for forceful conversion on Oct. 2 in Baradabari. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that police investigated The Alliance Ministry’s Life Church, taking away a church register and other documents. After the enquiry police returned the register and allowed pastor Rajender Gautham to continue his ministry, but on Oct. 4 summoned him again. They told him to halt future worship meetings in the church building, as the VHP had threatened to attack Christian meetings in the area.

Chhattisgarh – Violent attacks rattled the Christian community in Dantewada district in the past month, with Hindu extremists seriously injuring a Christian woman attending a funeral with an axe blow to the head. As Christians gathered for a memorial service for Somli Bai of Narli village on Sept. 29, an angry mob attacked them, injuring about 35 Christians, six of them seriously. A woman identified only as Bode was admitted to a hospital with a serious head injury from an axe, as was Raju Karma, who was critically wounded and his motorcycle burned. Some of the Christians took shelter in a nearby jungle, with three persons missing. On Oct. 5, a mob demonstrated in front of Indian Pentecostal Church in Kirandul, 10 kilometers (six miles) from Narli, accusing the pastor of forcible conversions. He has reportedly gone into hiding following death threats to his family and him. In Bacheli (three kilometers from Narli), pastor Sudarshan Pani told Compass that Hindu extremists tried to kidnap Satish Basra, pastor of the late Bai’s church. Local residents foiled the kidnapping attempt. Police have been informed of all the incidents, but a First Information Report has not been filed, according to local sources. “These troubles have been started by outsiders who have come into the Kirandul-Bacheli area and are inciting local people against Christians,” Pastor Pani said. “A few high-caste families have voluntarily accepted Christianity in the past few days and this has added more fuel to the fire. The convert families are firm, but the pressure is being felt by the entire community.”

Karnataka – Police on Sept. 28 disrupted a worship service and detained a pastor in Hubli. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that police took the pastor for questioning based on Hindu extremists’ allegations of forceful conversion. Worship came to a halt as police ordered members to stop the meeting. Saying that that he had not caused any disturbances and was conducting the worship service in a Christian’s building, pastor Daniel Kote was released after questioning. Recently Hindu extremists had attacked another worship meeting led by Pastor Kote in Hotel Chalukya, resulting in services moving to the church member’s building.

New Delhi – Hindu extremists belonging to Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh vandalized a church, accused the pastor of forcible conversion and brought down the roof and a wall of Rehma Faith Church on Sept. 17 in Peeragarhi, west Delhi. The same mob on Sept. 18 arrived at the church with saffron flags, vandalized the remains of the church and pelted Christians with stones, while police stood by as mere spectators, reported the Christian Legal Association of India. A child and three church members were injured in the attack. A complaint has been registered and police protection has been provided on the church premises.

Andhra Pradesh – A revenue inspector and his workers demolished a church building on Sept. 3 in Hyderabad. According to the All India Christian Council (AICC), the revenue inspector identified only as Srihari said that he had carried out the demolition according to orders from another revenue inspector identified only as Sudhakar. The pastor, identified only as Jairaj, had all pertinent documents for legal ownership of the land, but the inspector refused to listen to him and went ahead with the demolition work. Hindu extremists reportedly had earlier pressured the pastor to vacate the building. Pastor Jairaj has sought help from the National Minority Commission. Moses Vattipalli told Compass that AICC has decided to file a case against the revenue officers.

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: PRAYER TEAM BEATEN MERCILESSLY – THEN ARRESTED


Two Christians in Chhattisgarh forced to beat fellow believer unconscious under threat of death.

NEW DELHI, October 13 (Compass Direct News) – The Christian community of Chhattisgarh state is rattled after a gruesome mob attack and torture in Surguja district.

At midnight on Oct. 3 in Dumarbhavna village, 110 kilometers (68 miles) from Premnagar, three jeeps full of Hindu nationalists broke open the door of a house where a three-day prayer meeting was taking place and attacked participants as they slept – ultimately forcing two Christians to beat one of their own prayer partners unconscious under threat of death.

The mob from the Hindu extremist Dharma Sena (Religious Army) beat the participants in the prayer meeting, including women, and dragged three of them from the house of Parmeshwar Beik, dumping them into the jeeps.

“We thought that they were taken to the police station, but instead they were taken to a secluded place where they were beaten all night,” Yahoshu Kujur, pastor of Blessing Church of God, told Compass.

Muneshwar Ekka and Beik were beaten first, and then the Hindu nationalists ordered them to beat the third captured Christian, Ravi Devangan.

“They threatened to kill us if we did not beat Ravi,” Beik told Pastor Kujur. “We were so scared and left with no option, so we beat Ravi until he dropped unconscious.”

After failing to find the three Christians at the local police station the next morning, the pastor found them at the Srinagar Government Hospital, where Devangan was admitted with internal injuries and injuries to his chest, legs and other parts of the body.

“Ravi, who is a driver by profession, was just visiting Parmeshwar from Mehagai village,” Pastor Kujur said. “He was the worst hit, at home and outside during the attack.”

He added that Devangan’s wife witnessed the attack on the house.

 

Police Inaction

Pastor Kujur told Compass that police admitted all three kidnapped Christians to the Srinagar Government Hospital with Devangan in serious condition and the other two in shock.

Beik’s wife also sustained internal injuries during the attack, Pastor Kujur said.

“Mr. Ashok Sahu and four other local Christian leaders went on the morning of Oct. 4 and reported the matter at the police station, but so far no action has been taken,” the pastor said.

Police reportedly deceived local Christians into believing that no complaint would be filed against the prayer team members for “forced conversion” if they would agree not to file any complaints against the Hindu nationalists.

“They told us that they would set the three free if we did that,” Pastor Kujur told Compass.

Instead police registered a case of “forced conversion” against the three Christians under sections 3 and 4 of the Chhattisgarh Dharma Swantantraya Adhiniyam (Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion Bill).

If convicted, the Christians could be sentenced up to a year in prison and/or pay a fine of up to 5,000 rupees (US$100). They appeared in Surajpur local court on Oct. 6. A fourth Christian, Fakir Chand Toppo, was also falsely implicated, Pastor Kujur said.

At press time all four Christians were in Surajpur jail, though attempts to secure bail for them continued.

 

Political Influence

Pastor Kujur said police officers who are friends of his informed him that police were forced to prosecute the Christians on “orders from above.”

Internal police sources told him, he added, that police in the state were working against Christians under Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pressure that has the support of the Chief Minister Raman Singh.

Christians from Surajpur have received news from sources who wish to remain anonymous that, emboldened by the BJP government that rules the state, Hindu nationalists have announced a cash award of 100,000 rupees (US$2,092) to anyone who murders a Christian preacher.

In Premnagar, also in Surguja district, Hindu extremist mobs have mounted similar attacks, Pastor Kujur said. He told Compass that in 2004 a Christian convention was attacked during which a mob surrounded the venue and shouted anti-Christian slogans. Police intervention averted casualties.

In another incident in 2005, Hindu extremists incited villagers of Premnagar to attack local Christians, reportedly wounding many.

The Dharma Sena was relatively unknown until nearly three years ago, emerging suddenly in the central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Attacking Christians throughout the two states, the Hindus extremist group is reportedly backed heavily by the BJP, with BJP leaders pressuring police officials not to register any First Information Reports against it.

It is widely believed that the Dharma Sena is nothing more than the Hindu extremist youth group Bajrang Dal in another form.

Report from Compass Direct News